LLANO, Texas (KXAN) – The Llano County District Attorney is three-for-three in prosecutions against three former Llano Police officers in connection to the 2017 arrest of Cory Nutt.
The latest conviction happened Jan. 24, after a jury convicted former Llano officer Jared Latta of official oppression.
Tuesday, Latta stood at the same defense table where he stood when the jury read his guilty verdict nearly three weeks ago. Latta dodged a two-year prison sentence during his sentencing hearing Tuesday.
District Court Judge Evan Stubbs suspended Latta’s two-year prison sentence to 18 months’ probation and a $500 fine. Llano County District Attorney Sonny McAfee asked the judge to give Latta at least a three-day stint in the county jail.
The judge declined, telling McAfee Latta was the “least culpable” in the 2017 Nutt arrest and pointed out that neither of the two officers convicted in the case get any jail time.
Latta, the department’s former chief Kevin Ratliff and former officer Grant Harden were all convicted on abuse of power-related charges stemming from the May 2017 arrest.
Former Chief Ratliff was convicted in July 2018 on two counts of official oppression and one count of tampering with a government record. Ratliff was sentenced to 12 months’ community supervision and did not spend any time in jail.
Latta, flanked by his defense attorney, would not answer questions about his conviction and the no-jail sentence handed down to him in Tuesday’s hearing.
“Mr. Latta, do you think you and your fellow officers got fair sentences given what you all put these people through?” KXAN investigator Jody Barr asked Latta as he walked out of court.
Latta did not answer any questions, including whether he regretted anything that happened the night of the Nutt arrest.
The Llano County grand jury nearly wiped the entire Llano Police Department out in the middle of 2018 when it handed up indictments against Ratliff, Latta and officers Grant Harden and Aimee Shannon.
Harden was convicted in the Nutt case last year and sentenced to one year in jail, but the judge suspended that to two years’ probation and Harden was ordered to surrender his peace officer license, according to McAfee.
Harden’s conviction and sentencing also included additional criminal charges not related to the Nutt arrest.
“I believe under the circumstances that our goal of the defendant not being a peace officer is served,” McAfee told KXAN as he left the courtroom.
But the judge did not rule on whether Latta could keep his peace officer license during the sentencing. The judge — who does not have jurisdiction over Latta’s licensure — left the decision up to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the commission responsible for peace officer training standards and licensure.
The judge did acknowledge, as did Latta’s attorney, that Latta’s conviction on a Class A Misdemeanor charge would likely cause TCOLE to revoke his peace officer license. McAfee said his decision to prosecute the officers was done to protect the public.
“That’s what we want is to make sure that the citizens of this community have the best police force they can have and not people that abuse that power and I think that has been accomplished,” McAfee said.
Former Officer Aimee Shannon’s one count of official oppression charge is still pending against her. She does not have a trial date set yet. Shannon testified against Latta in the Nutt case, McAfee told KXAN.
Former Chief Kevin Ratliff also attended Latta’s sentencing, sitting beside Latta in the courtroom before the judge sentenced Latta.
Ratliff has appealed his jury conviction and the appeal is pending.
“You’ve been convicted, Mr. Latta’s been convicted. It seems a lot of allegations against you and your department about abuse of power have been substantiated — do you have anything you’d like to add to this?” Barr asked Ratliff as the former chief walked through the metal detectors inside the courthouse door.
“Not at this time,” Ratliff said, “I’m still waiting for my appeal decision to be made on that right now.”
“If people are left to believe with all of the convictions that you and the department you ran — you were operating at a certain level of — or a high level of corruption, would the public be wrong in that conclusion?” Barr asked Ratliff.
“The truth will come out eventually,” he replied.
“These came down to jury verdicts,” Barr responded.
“I understand. A jury only gets to hear certain parts of stories,” Ratliff said before heading into the courtroom for Latta’s sentencing.
NEW EVIDENCE AGAINST LATTA
The only witness the prosecution called during the Feb. 11 sentencing was Kevin Hollingshead, a Cedar Park man who had a run-in with Latta back in 2016.
Hollingshead told the judge he was driving a loaded U-Haul van through Llano on April 22, 2016, and noticed a truck pulling a trailer with a piece of equipment on it had pulled into the turning lanes in the middle of Highway 29.
Hollingshead the truck’s right turn signal was flashing, and the truck was stopped in the middle of the highway looking to merge onto the highway.
Hollingshead said he was in the left lane attempting to make a left into the Valero gas station. He passed Latta’s vehicle, then turned into the gas station to get gas. He testified he noticed the truck pulled up alongside him and noticed Latta yelling at him from inside the truck.
“He was really upset and cursing a lot,” Hollingshead testified. “He told me I f—ked up,” Hollingshead told the court from the witness stand. Hollingshead said Latta was using profanity in “every other word.”
Latta was angry because he believed the Hollingshead had cut him off, according to Latta’s attorney.
Latta then “flashed his badge at me,” the man testified. There were three other men in the truck and at least two other men inside flashed a badge at Hollingshead testified. “I was scared,” he told the judge. “No one’s ever treated me like that.”
The man said Latta continued his tirade and started “poking” and pushing the man in the chest before later threatening to “kick your ass out here in front of everybody,” the man said Latta told him.
The man called 911 who put him in touch with Sergeant Melissa Sloan. Sloan asked Hollingshead to send an email with the allegations to her and Ratliff.
Hollingshead testified he also filed a complaint with the Texas Rangers over the assault, but said he decided not to have Latta prosecuted — even saying he would forgive Latta — if the chief would make sure Latta “will never do this again.”
Hollingshead said he later decided to help the prosecution after seeing reports of Latta involved in the Nutt case on YouTube.
The Nutt arrest happened in May 2017, just 11 months after Hollingshead encountered Latta at the Valero station in Llano.
“He did it again,” Hollingshead testified.
Latta was never charged in the Hollingshead case. As part of the sentencing and probation, the judge ordered Latta to have no contact with Hollingshead or Nutt and told Latta he could not perform any law enforcement or security work while out on probation.